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Utah House passes bill to require legislative ‘performance’ audit every other year

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Signs show voters where to go on Election Day at Whitmore Library in Cottonwood Heights.

Signs show voters where to go on Election Day at Whitmore Library in Cottonwood Heights on Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2022.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

It’s not an Arizona-style, so-called “forensic” audit that some far right Republicans were calling for in 2021, but Utah lawmakers are a step closer to requiring a “comprehensive performance” audit of Utah’s elections every other year.

The Utah House on Friday voted unanimously to approve HB269, a bill that would require the Office of the Legislative Auditor General to conduct a biennial audit of elections in even-numbered years.

The bill now goes to the Senate for consideration.

“We have a pretty good system here in Utah,” the bill’s sponsor, House Majority Leader Mike Schultz, R-Hooper, said, noting the last legislative audit conducted of the 2022 election showed just that. In that audit, legislative auditors found no evidence of fraud and only small discrepancies in the number of ballots cast and the number of votes counted in some counties.

“But there’s always room for improvement,” he added, “and it’s always important that we keep our eye on the ball and strive for perfection.”

Schultz’s bill would allow an auditor to be “present at the place where counting is conducted, regardless of whether the count is complete.” It also allows the auditor to unseal ballots and examine them for a certain amount of time after the end of an election.

More specifically, the bill states “if the audit uncovers evidence that raises a substantial doubt regarding the accuracy of the results of an election, the auditor may examine the ballots until” either the end of the calendar year in which the election was held or, if the election was contested, when the contest is resolved or “at any time via a subpoena or other legal process.”

The bill was widely supported, by both Republicans and Democrats in the House. It was also supported by state and local elections officials when it was considered in and endorsed by the House Government Operations Committee earlier this week.

“Elections are probably one of the most, if not the most, important functions that our government provides, and I think it’s important that we do standard routine audits,” Schultz said. “We audit every other area of government, and most of us use audits in our business on a regular basis. I think it makes sense to have these types of audits done on our election processes.”

The bill comes after Schultz in 2021 requested a legislative audit to “assess the integrity and accuracy of voter rolls, the legitimacy and security of submitted ballots, and the systems and processes within election offices.”

That request was preceded by a separate effort to put an independent, “forensic” audit on Utah’s ballot — led by a Republican Utah lawmaker who later resigned amid backlash for spearheading a committee hearing fraught with misinformation on Utah’s Capitol Hill to call for an Arizona-style election audit, even though former President Donald Trump handily won Utah in 2020.

Schultz said he sought the legislative audit to increase confidence in Utah’s elections, not to fan partisan divides.

“Even though it was well after the 2020 elections, everyone still thought it was partisan and I was questioning the results of the (election). I can’t count how many reporters I had to answer to, if I thought it was about Trump, and I’m like, ‘No, Trump won in Utah. I mean, this is ridiculous,’” Schultz said in the House committee.

“So I just thought there was a better way we can do this. I think we can take the politics out of it and let’s just do what’s right and let’s just audit all of our elections.”